Top 20 Finish Sets Up WVU for 2012 Season - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

Top 20 Finish Sets Up WVU for 2012 Season


The season's final rankings came out Tuesday and the Mountaineers landed in the Top 20 nationally.

A 17th place finish in the AP Poll and 18th in the USA Today Coaches Poll put a ribbon the 2011 campaign following an Orange Bowl blowout.

WVU's opponent in that game, Clemson, fell to No. 22 in both polls after being ranked 15 and 14 following the regular season.

Despite getting beaten badly each time it faced Clemson, Virginia Tech was voted ahead of the Mountaineers in the Coaches Poll, but four below (21) in the AP. Apparently losing to Michigan in overtime of the Sugar Bowl carries more weight than utter destruction of the Tigers in the Orange for some of the country's coaches.

West Virginia is, of course, the highest ranked team from the Big East, but Cincinnati found its way into the Top 25 as well.

Five Big 12 teams finished ahead of the Mountaineers, including conference champions Oklahoma State, which settled for third place behind national champion Alabama and runner-up LSU.

That's the conference WVU believes it will be heading into for the 2012 season and clearly the competition out west will be far ahead of what the Big East presented.

An Orange Bowl performance with 70 points on the board served as the Mountaineers' message to whatever conference it plays in next year that they are to be taken seriously, and with a head coach who has succeeded in the Big 12 as a coordinator, there should be an added sense of optimism.

Dana Holgorsen received the Football Writers Association of America award for First-Year Coach of the Year on Monday, recognizing the job he did in his first stint as head coach. With a 10-3 finish and a BCS bowl championship trophy in his display case, Holgorsen certainly deserves the honor, but if you know anything about him, you know it means very little at this time.

His focus is on closing out the 2012 recruiting class strong and getting the pieces in place that his team needs if it will have any chance to carry its momentum into the coming season. Then it will turn to winter workouts and spring camp and at no point will he slow down and think, "My, what a swell first season I had."

Offensively, there's absolutely no reason his Mountaineers cannot continue to build on what they did in Miami. All the key components are returning, including the all-important quarterback, Geno Smith.

And if 401 yards and seven total touchdowns were any indication, he's finally getting a grasp of this system.

"That's how this offense is," says quarterback coach Jake Spavital. "If you remember at the beginning of the year we said it's all about the system and Geno learned about checks and staying in the pocket, not taking sacks and not turning the ball over and it seemed like we had those struggles throughout the entire year and then we got to where Coach Holgorsen would send the play in, Geno would make the check and we wouldn't turn the ball over and we ended up scoring a lot of points."

Spavital is excited for the offseason, knowing that his job won't be to teach an entire system like he did a year ago, but rather to tweet some techniques and review some of the finer details.

For the second year in a row, the bigger question marks for the Mountaineers will likely be defensively, as the roster again loses big numbers from that side of the ball.

Five starters from the Orange Bowl are lost to graduation, including two-thirds of the defensive line, perhaps the team's most important cog in Najee Goode and its top corner, Keith Tandy.

Through injury and poor play, reserves have gotten experience, but not to the extent that they will be accustomed to the number of snaps that await them in 2012.

Then there is the question of which coaches and coordinator will lead them.

A Top 20 team is poised to leave the Big East and move to the Big 12 with the rookie coach of the year and a record-setting bowl performance. It will not lack confidence, or the hunger to prove itself for an entire regular season, not just one night in January.

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